Word count 3,590
“What time is it?” Scott asked.
“Five minutes past the last time you asked,” Murdoch grumped.
Scott stared out the French doors once more. “Where is he?”
“He’ll be here, Scott,” Murdoch replied, again.
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t set my watch by him.”
“Are you still staring out that door? Scott, he’ll be here,” Teresa chastised as she walked in from the kitchen.
“What if something’s happened. Maybe I should go look for him,” Scott suggested.
“Maybe, you should sit down and try to relax. He’ll be here any time now,” Murdoch said.
“I can’t believe you’re so calm. Any other time you’d be chewing nails,” Scott grumped.
“He promised he’d make it back in time. That’s good enough for me. He still has several hours you know,” Murdoch reminded him.
“I know,” Scott sighed.
It was their first Thanksgiving as a family and Scott wanted it to be special. Why Murdoch had decided to send Johnny to the Markson’s now was beyond him. He knew the man was counting on those horses but surely it could have waited a few more days. But no, Murdoch insisted.
Johnny didn’t mind but Scott knew his brother. If there was trouble to be had, Johnny Lancer would have it. And at the most inopportune times. Like now, Thanksgiving Day.
He tapped his fingers against the arm of the chair and glanced at the grandfather clock once more. He promised he’d be back this morning. Come hell or high water, he’d said. Well, Scott saw no signs of brimstone nor flood so there was no reason he shouldn’t be home.
He remembered Thanksgiving in Boston with a smile. Harlan Garrett always invited several friends and their families to the house for dinner. It was a feast to be sure. The house was decorated with greenery and the aromas from the kitchen permeated every space for days beforehand.
It was always a special time and his grandfather was always in a fine mood this time of year. People would start arriving soon after breakfast and Scott would play outside with his friends until well after they were all frozen stiff. Still, it would take threats and cajoling to get the boys inside.
Then, they would all sit down at the grand dining table and the turkey would be presented. Along with lobster, roast and every vegetable one could imagine. Of course, it was the desserts that Scott and the other children relished most. Pumpkin and mince pie, cobblers and cakes. His stomach growled at the thought.
After dinner, the men would gather in Harlan’s study for cigars and brandy. The ladies would gather in the sitting room and someone would play the grand piano. The children would adjourn to Scott’s room to play with his many toys.
After a few hours, they would sneak down to the kitchen where they would receive more desserts and candy from the staff. All on the sly, of course.
Scott was brought back from his memories by the sound of a horse approaching.
“About time,” he grumbled and walked to the door. Opening it, he was disappointed to see it was only one of the hands returning. He closed the door and walked back into the living room, shaking his head.
Murdoch was amused by his usually calm son’s impatience. He knew this was important to Scott. That he wanted to start some traditions of their own in this ‘new’ family. This was the first holiday together. Well, the first real family holiday. Murdoch remembered past Thanksgivings that weren’t so cheerful.
Too many years he had simply ignored the holiday. Sitting alone by the fire wondering what his sons were doing on this day. If one of them was even alive. He shuddered at the memory.
If Thanksgiving was morose, Christmas had been downright pathetic. Once Teresa had reached her pre-teen years, he had tried to make a celebration of the day. He and Paul were determined she have only good memories and times during these most intimate family holidays.
It was all tainted now by the death of her father. Only two weeks ago last year. Murdoch was surprised by the quick passage of time. He was also worried about Teresa. If she would even want to celebrate. But, she had thrown herself into ensuring that the brothers had the best holiday ever. He knew she sensed the importance of the day. A harbinger for the next holiday. Christmas.
Murdoch looked over at his ward knitting something. She had a small smile on her face as she went about the task. He wondered what she was thinking. She seemed happy. He could only pray she really was.
Once again, the sound of an approaching horse had Scott out of his chair. “If this isn’t him, I’m going over there and dragging him home!”
He opened the front door and a smile came to his lips. ‘Finally,’ he thought.
“I was beginning to think I’d have to come after you,” he said.
“I told you I’d be back. It’s barely noon,” Johnny answered as he walked through the open door.
“You’re brother has been pacing a hole in the rug,” Murdoch reported. “He was worried you wouldn’t get back in time.”
Johnny smiled. “Aw, ain’t that sweet. Worried about me, Scott?”
“No, I just didn’t want to have to hold supper,” Scott defended.
“How did it go, son?”
“Fine. Mr. Markson was real pleased with the horses. He about talked my ear off, though,” Johnny grinned.
“He’s worse than a woman,” Murdoch said.
“I beg your pardon?” Teresa piped up.
“Uh hummm, yes, well, you know what I mean,” Murdoch fumbled.
“Well, since I’m NOT late and if you don’t mind, Scott, I’d like to take care of my horse.”
“Just don’t take all day about it, little brother,” Scott ordered.
Johnny saluted and bowed as he back-stepped out the door.
Johnny unsaddled Barranca and groomed the horse til he shone. “Now, since it is Thanksgiving, and I have a lot to be thankful for, you get a treat,” he grinned at the palomino.
He took the sugar lumps from his hiding place and let Barranca nibble from his hand. Laughing at the feel of the tongue on his palm. “I’m very thankful for you, Barranca. You’re the best horse I ever had and that’s the truth. Now, I have to go before Scott comes after me. You’d think I was gonna run off or somethin.”
Johnny headed up the outside stairs to his room, grabbed clean clothes and headed for the bath house. He stopped in the kitchen and hugged Maria from behind. “If that brother of mine comes looking for me, tell him I decided to take a bath just for him.”
“Hmmph! Everyone else will appreciate it as well, Juanito.”
“Maria! What are you saying?” he grinned.
“Get out of my kitchen!” she swatted at him.
An hour later, Johnny descended the stairs, fresh and clean.
“Well, brother, am I presentable?” he asked.
Scott looked up and smiled approvingly. “It will do.”
Johnny batted the back of his head as he passed, then reached down and kissed Teresa on the cheek before plopping on the sofa.
“Well, I’m clean and dashingly handsome. Now what do we do?” he laughed.
“What do you mean?” Scott asked.
“I mean, what’s next? Is there some kind of tradition we’re supposed to follow? Some game or something? Come on, brother, tell me all about Thanksgiving.”
Scott stared at him for a long moment, a frown on his face. No one spoke.
“Did I say something wrong?” Johnny asked.
“No, I just ….. haven’t you ever celebrated Thanksgiving?” Scott asked.
“Not in Mexico, brother. It’s an American holiday, remember?”
“Surely you know about it though.”
“Oh yeah, the pilgrims and all that. I heard about that but it’s different now. I mean, we don’t have any Indians or anything,” Johnny said.
Murdoch chuckled and Scott realized he’d been had. Still, something told him not completely.
“Well, in Boston, it was an event. Grandfather invited a lot of people for dinner. The children would play outside until time to eat. Afterward, we’d go to my room because it was too dark outside. When I was older, I joined the men in the study and we’d talk about all sorts of things.”
“So, it’s about eating til you pop and talking,” Johnny summarized.
“It’s about being thankful for all you have,” Murdoch spoke up.
“It’s about being with your family and enjoying each other’s company as well,” Teresa said.
“Sounds better than eating til you pop and talkin,” Johnny grinned.
Scott threw the newspaper at him and smiled. “I want this to be the start of a tradition in this house. That, no matter what else is happening in our lives, we all come together on this day every year.”
“Now, I like that, Boston. No matter where we are or what’s happening. Boy, I hope I can keep that tradition,” Johnny laughed.
“Knowing you, Johnny Lancer, you’ll break it this very day!” Teresa laughed and leaned over to hug him.
Maria came out and announced it was time to eat. Scott jumped up and rubbed his hands together.
The table was elegant with the Irish lace tablecloth Murdoch had managed to bring all the way from Scotland. He explained it had belonged to his mother. The china was Catherine’s. She’d insisted on having it shipped from Boston as it was a family heirloom and now it belonged to Scott. The silver candleholders belonged to Maria and were a wedding gift to her parents. These were now Johnny’s. The ensemble gave the feeling that the entire family was with them.
As they settled into their places at the table, the front door opened and Jelly walked in wearing his Sunday best.
“I was just wondering about you,” Murdoch said.
“Man likes ta look his best at special occasions,” the bewhiskered one explained.
Scott leaned over and took a sniff. “Jelly, you smell pretty.”
“Hush up! Just mind your manners, Scott Lancer.”
“Yes sir,” he smiled.
Maria and her niece, Estelle, began bringing in the food. She saved the turkey for last and sat it down in front of Murdoch with a flourish.
“Well, if you’ll all join hands,” Murdoch said, bowing his head.
Johnny crossed himself and took his father and Teresa’s hands as the patriarch said grace.
Once finished, he cleared his throat. “There is a tradition that we all take turns saying what we’re most thankful for this year. I’d like to make that a tradition in this house. Would anyone like to start?”
“I will,” Scott smiled. “Since this is our first Thanksgiving as a family, I’d say that’s something to be thankful for. I’m also thankful to have the chance to sit here with you all tonight. I’m thankful for the brother I always wanted and never thought I’d have.”
“Johnny?” Murdoch turned.
“Well, I’m thankful for a lot of things. Being alive, first,” he laughed softly. “I’m thankful for getting a second chance in life but mostly, I’m thankful for this family. Good and bad, easy and hard, we’ve stuck it out this long. I want to thank Murdoch for finding two beautiful women to give him two such good lookin sons.”
A round of laughter followed this statement.
“I’m thankful that Johnny and Scott are home. Their presence has breathed new life into this house. And I’ve always wanted a big brother to look out for me. Now, I have two,” Teresa said with tears in her eyes.
“Reckon I’m thankful for meetin all of ya. Even if it wasn’t on the best of terms. Thank you, Johnny, for findin good homes for my boys and to all of ya for findin a good home for me,” Jelly said, a slight sniffling at the end.
“I’m most thankful that my sons are home. That we are all healthy and happy. I’m thankful for Teresa, who brightens every day with her presence. I’m grateful for Jelly, who keeps me in line. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.” Murdoch raised his wine glass in a toast.
“Can we eat now?” Johnny asked.
After dinner, they retired to the living room. It was quiet, each reveling in the fine dinner and feeling the effects of too much of a good thing.
“Well, are we gonna sit here and fall asleep?” Johnny asked.
“What would you like to do, brother?”
“I don’t know. Talk?” Johnny shrugged.
“What would you like to talk about, son?”
Johnny’s eyes glittered as a crooked smile edged up his lips. “You.”
Murdoch raised both brows. “Me?”
“Yeah, you. Tell us about Scotland.”
Scott leaned forward a bit, smiling in anticipation.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Murdoch started.
“Come on, Murdoch. Tell us about when you were a boy. You never talk about that. What was it like. I’ve never been to Scotland,” Scott urged.
Murdoch smiled. “Alright. Well, Scotland is not a very big country but the climate is very different one area to another. My …. our family was from the Highlands. My father raised sheep.”
“Sheep?” Jelly gasped. “You was a sheep farmer?”
“Yes, Jelly. That was the family business. As I was saying…” Murdoch went on with a cocked brow for the interruption. “The Highlands were nothing but black mountains and bogs before sheep were introduced. Then, the grass became lush and the heather grew lighter. Without sheep, the Highlands were almost uninhabitable. There were cattle but the terrain wasn’t suitable for them. The mountains and grasses weren’t capable of keeping the cattle thriving.”
“So, why’d you leave?” Johnny asked.
“The farms at that time were all leased, rented by a land owner. It was sort of like share cropping. Many of the farmers were unable to keep a large enough herd to pay the ever increasing rent. My father was one of them. We moved to Inverness when I was a teen. My father took work on the docks.”
“But, you didn’t want to work the docks?” Scott assumed.
“No, son. I guess ranching of one kind or the other was in my blood. I didn’t see much of a future for myself in Inverness. It’s a port city. Everything there relied on the shipping business and it just wasn’t for me. My father would never admit it, but I knew he hated it, too.”
“Why did he do it, then?” Johnny asked.
“Because he had a family to support, son. He took the work he had to take to keep us fed.”
“Was he upset when you left?”
“Yes and no. He didn’t like the idea of the family splitting up, but he understood.”
“How long has he been gone?” Scott asked quietly.
“Oh, many years, son. I received word two years after moving out here. By then, he’d been gone for six months. My mother followed soon after.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Johnny asked.
“I can’t believe I’ve never told you boys about this before. Yes, I have two brothers and a sister. They all live in Inverness still. My brothers went to the university. They’re all married now with children and some with grandchildren.”
“Don’t you keep in touch? Write to them?” Scott asked.
“We try but life has a way of keeping you busy.”
“Murdoch, that’s crazy! You should write to them all the time. I mean, you may never get to see them again,” Johnny exclaimed.
“You’re absolutely right, son. I’d give anything to see them all again,” Murdoch said, a longing evident in his voice.
Scott and Johnny exchanged looks. “Could we write to them?” Scott asked.
Murdoch smiled. “I’m sure they’d love that. In fact, why don’t we all write letters and send them off together.”
“Great! Just one question. What are their names?” Johnny asked.
Murdoch laughed. “I guess that would help. My brothers are Duncan and Blane. My sister is Aileen.”
Johnny stood up and walked to his father’s desk. He pulled out some paper and grabbed two pens and the inkwell.
“You mean now?” Murdoch asked.
“Why not? Scott and I’ll sit at the table. You get over here to this desk. It’s time your family met their nephews,” he grinned.
Two hours later, Scott had finished his letters. Johnny was still sitting, head down, tongue stuck out the side of his mouth. Murdoch was writing furiously.
“Aren’t you done yet?” Scott asked.
“It’s hard to know what to say to total strangers. And you have to say it three times,” Johnny answered. “But ….” he signed his name at the bottom of the page and blew on the ink. “I’m done.”
They gathered their letters and walked over to Murdoch. “Guess he’s gonna be awhile.”
He looked up then. “I can’t believe all that’s happened since I last wrote to them. I’m afraid this is going to take a while.”
“Well, you can finish tomorrow,” Scott suggested.
“No, no, I want to do it now. You boys go on to bed. I’ll put all the letters together when I’ve finished.”
They both shrugged and walked away. Scott leaned over and whispered. “He acts like it’s a school assignment.”
The sound of his sons laughter brought Murdoch’s head up again. He smiled as he went back to writing.
As Scott headed for his bedroom, he felt a tug at his arm. Johnny tossed his head toward his own room and Scott followed him in.
“I have a great idea for Christmas,” he grinned.
“Scott, what would you think of buying the old man a trip to Scotland?”
“Johnny, that’s a great idea! But he’d never go for it.”
“Leave Lancer for that long? No, I don’t see it happening.”
“Well, if we’ve already paid for it, he’ll have to agree. Besides, he has us to take care of things here now. Did you see his face?”
“Do you have any idea how much that will cost?”
“No, but it’ll be worth every dime. Come on, what’ya say?”
Scott grinned. “I say we do it.”
The very next day, Johnny and Scott headed into Green River to mail their letters. Murdoch had finally finished his missives and the envelopes ended up being rather thick. He was so excited, he had the boys go in first thing.
Once the letters were mailed, they began inquiring as to what it would take to send Murdoch to Scotland.
They sat on the bench at the stage depot, feeling overwhelmed.
“How did he ever make it here?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know but this is not impossible. People travel everyday. Look, first we need to get him to Boston. Then we need a ship to London and on to Inverness. Simple.”
“Simple? Sure, Scott, a piece of cake. Maybe ….. no, nevermind.”
“Okay, I was going to say, maybe your grandfather could help. You know, you could wire him and ask about ship schedules.”
“That’s a great idea!” Scott got up and walked to the telegraph operator. He sent the wire with instructions to send someone to the ranch with the reply. He made sure the operator understood it was for his eyes only.
Two days later, Ben Johnson rode out to the south pasture to find Scott. He informed the man that Murdoch was not pleased that he wouldn’t leave the telegram and insisted on putting it in Scott’s hands.
Scott thanked the young man and gave him a generous tip. Then he tore open the rather lengthy wire and smiled. Grabbing his horse, he took off to find his brother.
Johnny was working the opposite end of the pasture. When he saw Scott riding so hard, he dropped everything. A sense of worry overtaking him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked immediately.
“Nothing. I’ve heard from grandfather. I have the schedules,” Scott smiled.
“Whoo hoo! Great! Now, all we have to do is make sure the timing is right.”
“Grandfather sent schedules for the next three months.”
“Scott, remind me to hug that old man if I ever see him again,” Johnny grinned.
“Why? Do you want to give him a heart attack?” Scott laughed.
They sat under a tree and worked out the itinerary. Things were beginning to come together and the brothers couldn’t be more pleased.
“There’s only one problem. The money,” Scott said.
Johnny shrugged. “That’s no problem.”
“Sure. I’ll just take a few jobs. Should take care of it.”
Johnny rolled onto his side at his brother’s expression of disbelief. “Just kidding, brother. Look, I still have that thousand the old man gave us when we came here.”
“Bet you thought I’d blown it all on some saloon girls.”
“Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it at all.”
“Well, all we have to do now is book this thing. Now, we need to pick a date.”
Once more, they put their heads together and came up with the right time. Just after the first of the year was the slowest time at the ranch. By the time Murdoch got to Scotland, it would be winter there. But, they figured he wouldn’t mind the cold weather.
They rode into town that very day and made arrangements for the stage to Stockton and the train from there to Boston. Scott sent a wire to his grandfather, asking him to book passage on a ship and wired the funds to Harlan’s bank.
“He’s really gonna be surprised, isn’t he?” Johnny smiled.
“Oh, he sure is,” Scott agreed.
To Snow Angels
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